Forces arrest suspected Islamic militants in Abyan:Bracing for ultimate battle [Archives:2003/645/Front Page]

June 26 2003

ADEN, June 25 (Reuters/YT) – Military units have been reinforced with tanks, helicopters, and led by military experts in mountainous Huttab area, 120 km north east of Aden governorate to track down and arrest or kill members of Islamic Jihad group, formerly known as the Aden-Abyan Islamic Army.
An informed source accompanies the army at Huttab told Yemen Times that around 80 AAIA affiliates have been led by a former security officer, called Mohammed Abduh Annabi and his brother Khaled.
The Yemen Times correspondent pointed out that the army stationed there has advanced 15 km and just 2 km separate the army forces from the militants.
Sources close to the area admit that a brutal battle is expected between the two sides. The Yemeni armed forces might use air force when need arises, specifically, if mediations arrive to a standstill.
The military campaign has been led by the Yemeni Defense Minster Major General, Abdullah Ali Aleywa himself along with the Abyan Governor, Fareed Magor and the Southern Zone Commander, Brigadier General, Mahdi Maqola.
The military forces had already led to fruitful results in the last few days as four armed men were arrested on Tuesday in a siege of hideouts of suspected Islamic militants blamed for an attack on an army medical team earlier this week.
“There are still around 80 extremist elements surrounded in an area with a 3 km (1.9 mile) radius,” the source said, adding that authorities expected them to surrender when food and water supplies ran out in the remote mountainous Sarar area.
This comes a day after Yemeni forces pounded with artillery the hideouts of suspected Islamic militants blamed for an attack on an army medical team earlier this week, officials and witnesses said.
Residents said blasts echoed across the region as military helicopters targeted a mountainous area in Abyan province where members of Islamic Islamic Jihad, are believed to be hiding.
“We have besieged them and our troops have closed in on them. We are giving them a chance to surrender,” a senior military official, who declined to be named, told Reuters.
He said the defense minister and the chief of staff were overseeing the operation.
The state news agency Saba said a Yemeni army medic, his five assistants and their driver were injured on Saturday when gunmen opened fire on their car as it was passing through the Sarar area of Abyan province on the way to carry out “humanitarian work”. It gave no further details.
Monday's operation was the latest offensive in a crackdown on militants by Yemen, which was the scene of several attacks on Western targets, including the 2000 bombing of the U.S. warship Cole and the 2002 attack on the French supertanker Limburg.
Islamic Jihad, which seeks to set up an Islamic state, has operated in the past under the name of the Aden Abyan Islamic Army, whose leader was executed in 1999 for the kidnapping of 16 Western tourists, four of whom died in a botched rescue attempt.
Authorities have said only remnants of the group remain. However, Abyan is a stronghold for other militants as well.
Yemen has captured at least two al Qaeda suspects in the province during a manhunt launched after the September 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. cities, blamed on the Islamic militant network. Yemen continues to exert efforts to shed its image in the West as a haven for Islamic militants.